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Emerging from the Crisis Stronger

5 Leadership Principles

May 29, 2020

In January 2020, I was named Broadlawns Medical Center’s chief medical officer. Little did I know, just a few months later, I would be leading our community hospital through a public health crisis.

Several people have expressed to me that my timing for becoming a chief medical officer just prior to this global health pandemic was bad luck; however, I don’t see it that way. In fact, I see it as good luck. During this critical time, I have had the privilege of making a once-in-a-lifetime difference in attending to the health and well-being of our community.

5 Important Leadership Principles

Broadlawns will emerge from this crisis a stronger team, workplace and resource for our community. This is, in part, due to the following leadership principles:

1. Be Proactive + Trust Your Instincts

During a crisis, it’s critical to prepare as thoroughly as possible, but it is equally important to draw from your existing knowledge and trust your decision-making.

When COVID-19 surfaced in Wuhan, China, I thought it was only a matter of time before it would reach the US. Early on, I hard-pressed our team to create worst-case scenarios, evaluate inventory levels and develop preparedness plans.

Because our team had been proactive, when a reporter unexpectedly asked me in early March about Broadlawns’ supply levels, I knew how to answer. Our supplies were critically inadequate. I also knew that it wasn’t just a concern for Broadlawns. The statewide healthcare system needed assistance securing supplies.

I hadn’t prepared a statement, and it was an unpopular proclamation at the time, but I trusted my instincts and shared publicly that Broadlawns had supply challenges.

The message was important to share. The need for more supplies was detailed in a story on the front page of the Des Moines Register and, fortunately, new partnerships were forged and vital supplies for the medical center and our community as a whole were secured.

2. Build an Inclusive Team with Servant Leadership

In early March, Broadlawns created a COVID-19 Response Team comprised of cross-departmental leadership. At our first meeting, I shared that COVID-19 was going to be unlike anything we have seen before, so everyone needed to prepare for new, contemporary thinking.

I asked the team to throw out the concept of the traditional team with one leader, and shared that we needed to act as an agile team with servant leadership. I also mentioned that we needed to ensure chairs in our waiting rooms were socially distanced to stop possible spread (this was long before social distancing was a requirement).

By the afternoon, with no further question or conversation, my suggestion had been fully implemented on our campus. That’s agile teamwork in action.

3. Protect Your Physical + Psychological Energy

Knowing where to expend your energy is always important, but even more so during a crisis.

I follow the 80/20 rule. There are usually 20% of people who are dismissive and resistant to change. I try not to focus too much of my energy on them, and instead I channel my energy into leading the other 80% who are receptive to direction.

4. Communicate Transparently + Consistently

Each of our 1,400 employees at Broadlawns plays a critical role in caring for our community. Leadership can be prepared, but if staff are unaware of what needs to be done or the expectations of the organization, your preparation is futile.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, we made the decision to send one daily communication to our entire staff. The daily email/text provided staff with all key updates. All new protocols and resources were shared, and each message began with an inspiring quote and words of encouragement for our team.

Consistent communication demonstrates transparency and creates trust, and this is critical during a crisis.

5. Authentically Collaborate

Authentic collaboration is always important, but when emotions are running high and uncertainty has overcome us, it is even more important. Building authentic relationships involves reaching out early and often. Having altruistic intentions and following through on commitments is inherent to establishing trusting relationships.

One of the first things I did as chief medical officer was to call my peer chief medical officer at another area hospital and asked to have coffee. Making that authentic connection in January made picking up the phone to discuss working together and sharing resources in March much easier.

While this crisis is certainly not over, we have gleamed many lessons through this pandemic. I am very proud of the collaborative partnerships, innovative thinking and agility that has enabled us to navigate our way through this elevated time in healthcare. Good things emerge during the most difficult of circumstances. We are stronger and wiser individuals after a crisis. We are also a more unified community. It has been a privilege to witness the Broadlawns’ team rise to the challenge and work as a team during the pandemic. Together, we continue to build a healthy community.

You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates as well. See more on COVID-19 here.

Yogesh Shah, MD, MPH

Dr. Yogesh Shah is Broadlawns Medical Center's chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs. Dr. Shah joined the medical staff at BMC in September 2016 and practices as a geriatrician in the Broadlawns Geriatric and Memory Center. He is the founding director of the Broadlawns Palliative Care Program.